Land StewardshipThe Land Trust Alliance (LTA) Standards and Practices Guidebook says “a land trust must carry out a program of responsible stewardship for its easements.” So exactly what does that mean?
Once a conservation easement is placed on a parcel of land, the Historic Virginia Land Conservancy’s work has only just begun. We become the stewards of that land, ensuring that the terms of the Deed of Conservation Easement are enforced. This requires annual monitoring, which means a comprehensive visit to the property that is protected.
Every piece of property we protect is different – unique in its own way. The same holds true for the deed of conservation easement; each one is specific to the property it protects. While one parcel may allow for trails, another may strictly prohibit that use for the land. Monitoring the property allows the land trust to evaluate what is on the property against that which is allowed in the deed.
While this hasn’t happened to the Historic Virginia Land Conservancy, other land trusts have engaged in huge law suits over non-compliance to the terms of the deed. For example, if the deed allows for a maximum of two 5,000 square foot buildings on the protected land and you show up to monitor and find a third 10,000 square foot building has been erected, you’ve got a huge issue! Problems like this, while not an everyday occurrence, precipitate the need for a land trust to have a separate stewardship fund that can provide the necessary legal fees should an issue arise.
Prior to accepting an easement, the Historic Virginia Land Conservancy requires landowners to complete a baseline study on their property. This information, which includes everything from property description, soils, topography and more, provides the data to which future information can be compared. The Conservancy has volunteers who visit our protected properties to identify the flora and fauna on the land. This is important information to keep on file.
The Historic Virginia Land Conservancy has good relationships with each of the landowners whose property they protect. However, every deed includes a clause that gives our organization permission to enter upon the property for inspection purposes. As a courtesy, we notify the landowners 30 days in advance.
Each property has its own notebook file, which must be maintained and kept current. Land stewardship is a big job – a forever job – and one that people don’t realize is a big part of protecting land.